|Arthur C. Pillsbury: You See The World Through His Eyes|
|Written by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster|
|Saturday, 09 August 2008|
Melinda Pillsbury-Foster on one of America's most important — and unjustifiably neglected — photographers.
No matter where you live today you see the world through the eyes of a man of whom you are probably unaware. Over a period of half a lifetime Arthur C. Pillsbury designed and built the cameras that changed our beliefs about nature and science.
Pillsbury's career would lay the groundwork for the use of photography as we know it today. Seeing is understanding. Seeing connects us with immediacy and power, providing both the medium for art and for all human innovation.
The cameras invented by Arthur C. Pillsbury remain with us. Each was conceived and built to provide the means for Pillsbury to solve a problem he confronted and was determined to solve. While still in college he considered how to widen the frame of a lens to produce a more expansive image. He solved the problem by designing and building the first circuit panorama camera. With that camera he chronicled the opening of the mining fields in the Yukon, explored the entire West Coast, and recorded the San Francisco Earthquake from the first day on. The images captured were not always beautiful, but they were always true to life. Images have continued to provide us with needed insights through wars, tragedies, and celebrations. Photojournalism, just one application of the technology of photography, has changed lives and our national direction.
In 1910, realizing that the number of species of wild flowers in the meadow near his studio in Yosemite were decreasing; Pillsbury built a camera that would capture the growth progression of flowering plants so that the plants themselves could tell their own story. Today all of us are familiar with the the images of a flower lifting its face to the sun in a dance-like motion. Flowers in motion, captured by time lapse photography grant us entirely different perspective on their life cycle and the need to preserve them.
Ever the pioneer and pushing the technological limits of photography of his day, on May 17, 1919, Pillsbury took the first aerial photos of Yosemite. This new view of the Yosemite valley provided perspective on the park unknown until his film was made. He used short films on nature to teach environmentalist themes. His films began to be shown in movie theaters. He was the first film documentarian that took environmentalism from the classroom to people.
In 1927, in a lab loaned to him by UC Berkeley, Pillsbury build a microscopic motion picture camera. His images stunned the scientists of the day. They had spent their careers studying dead samples under their microscopes. With Pillsbury's new camera living samples could projected on a screen in a lecture hall. The ability to capture events with the microscopic motion picture camera has created explosive waves of discovery in every field of science.
Pillsbury's motion picture technology caught the attention of leaders from around the world who wanted to bring his technology and his way to impart information to their nations. He found himself awash with invitations to present his perspective on nature as a living, growing changing system of plants and animals interacting with the environment. By 1930 Pillsbury invented the X-ray motion picture and underwater motion picture cameras. The focus of his life's work was connecting you to the worlds we could not see without the extension of human vision made possible through his photographic innovations.
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